How to talk about: Sex, porn and technology

Brought to you by Toyota Family JourneysParenting today is quite different to when we were kids, particularly with the impacts of the digital era. In this rapidly changing world, a vast range of information is just a click away. It’s pretty weird to think that in my teens I was browsing encyclopedias from the library for research!

Easy online access to information is handy, but material that was previously reserved for adults, like porn, can now be accessed by anyone with a device. When I was young, back in the 1980s and 1990s, porn was largely limited to video cassettes behind that creepy curtain at the back of the Video Ezy. In 1972, at the height of the Playboy era, 7.2 million copies were distributed each month. You don’t need me to tell you that times have changed. Porn content has escalated rapidly online with material being much more graphic and violent than in the ‘old days’, with a shocking increase in the exploitation of children. And it’s highly accessible – with just one hashtag and one click, you can see hardcore porn. Today Pornhub itself has 115 million views every day! In 2019 alone it had 42 billion visits and over 6 million new porn videos uploaded!

Knowing that sooner or later my own young kids will be exposed to graphic porn is pretty awful. Just last week a friend told me their 8-year-old had been at their friend’s house with unmonitored iPad access. The friend of this 8-year-old decided to google “kissing”, with a search result well beyond the realms of an innocent peck on the cheek.Thankfully he came home and told his mum and she was able to help him process the experience. While that example may sound quite low-key, the gold was that her son told her about it, and they were able to talk about online safety, what porn is and what their family values are around it.

Become part of a community of supporters making a life-changing difference in the lives of parents and their children.

 Facing those awkward conversations

I get it, pornography isn’t a topic most of us will be pumped about broaching with our tamariki, but talking to our kids about porn is essential in today’s world. Researcher Donald Roberts has found young people aged 8-18 are spending, on average, 7.5 hours per day engaging with media and 71% of New Zealand teens first saw porn by accident as young as 8 years old. With stats like these, and unlimited content at their fingertips, it’s no wonder our young people are accessing porn earlier and earlier. Hence the need for our kids to be equipped with awareness, understanding and tools to safely navigate their online world.

Having conversations around sex and porn with our kids isn’t something we do once and then tick off. It really helps to keep the conversation open as you traverse this new landscape together. Personally, I sometimes feel like I’m deliberately shattering my kids’ innocence, but in reality, the best thing we parents can do is create a space where our kids know they can talk to us about anything.

Parenting Place Child and Family Psychologist, Katherine Tarr, says, “Pornography is not a healthy way for young people to learn about sex. It doesn’t promote intimacy, respect or communication, things that are necessary for fulfilling sexual relationships. It is really important for parents to be open, honest and available to have conversations about sex and relationships with their children.”

What should we share at each age?

Kids all grow and mature at their own pace, and there is no fixed rule for how to have ‘the talk’. The following ideas might help serve as a guide.

Age 0-6 years
Talk to kids about body confidence, name body parts with the correct terminology, and let them know that only they are allowed to touch their private parts. This is foundational for understanding consent. Kids get curious sometimes, and that’s pretty normal, but ensuring they know that other people’s private parts are out of bounds sets a safe standard.

Age 7-10
Kids will get more curious about body parts, reproduction and sex. Having open conversations and answering their questions teaches that it’s okay to talk to you about these topics, and lays the foundation for talking about trickier topics. Be guided by your kids. Recently I told my 8-year-old son about sex – I used to be a health teacher so I wasn’t freaked out, but I knew he hadn’t learnt about sex yet and I would rather he hear the facts from me, rather than from playground banter that would no doubt be inaccurate and confusing. We talked about online safety and what is okay and not okay to see online. He had lots of questions and it was a really great, open conversation that we will continue.

Age 11 onwards
Hormones have kicked in and interest in boyfriends/girlfriends, relationships and sexuality increases. Many kids are also spending more time online and on social media. Naturally, you’re going to want to step up your education around healthy relationships and online safety.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Starting a conversation around porn can be tricky, and a bit uncomfortable. “Hey Charlie, can you help me grab the rubbish bins.  So speaking of porn….”. What?!

It’s helpful to start the porn conversation with some foundational information about sex. We want our kids to have a healthy perspective on sex, so talk to them about how great it is, that it’s a beautiful way to connect in a healthy relationship. Share your dream for your child’s future. Mine is that they will grow up confident and resilient and self-aware, and when they are ready, will find someone they are loved and respected by and who they can enjoy great sex with in a supportive and committed relationship. I can assume that that’s ultimately what most of us want! One of the problems with porn is that it only shows the sex, without the love and respect. Our kids need to know there is something better.

When it comes to online safety, essentially you want to teach your kids about filtering good content from the not so good. It’s a minefield out there, so putting restricted content controls on iPads and computers and internet filters on your wifi is a good place to start. Even the best technology filters aren’t completely safe however, so talking about closing down unhealthy content straight away is an important message. Explaining what sort of content is unhealthy and why can help prevent increased interest. The best filters are our brains, hence the value of teaching our kids how to make good decisions.

Establishing family guildelines around how you respond to dodgy content is helpful, as well as talking to your kids about how they could respond if friends suggest they look at unhealthy content together.

And, brace yourself, we also need to talk about sexting. It’s increasingly common for young people to pressure others into sending nude photos of themselves. Once these nudes are sent, they are online forever, and the truth is that these graphic images often make their way onto porn sites for global distribution. Talking to your kids about the long-term ramifications of sending a school crush a nude is really, really important. Often they are too young to truly understand how these images can haunt them for years to come.

Sex therapist and lead researcher for The Light Project, Jo Robertson, says, “The most important thing is not to freak out! Start a conversation, having already learnt a bit and try to stay calm with a non-judgmental tone…or your young person won’t feel safe to be honest with you”.  She explains, “This year we launched a website, In The Know,  which covers the 10 most relevant issues among young people regarding online sexual experiences. Topics include sending nudes, feeling uncomfortable about something they’ve seen, or wanting to watch less porn. It’s helpful for parents/caregivers to learn what kind of language to use, and get some practical tips and tools to offer their young person. We also have tools for starting the conversation with both children/tweens and teens at The Light Project”.

This article was first published in the NZ Herald, October 2020.


Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family? 

Our Family Coaches bring their extensive training and experience to help uncover new insights, ideas and practical solutions to parenting and relationship challenges. Through one-on-one support (in person, via Skype or email), you’ll be provided with take-home strategies to bring about the positive changes you desire for your whānau.

Share

About Author

Holly Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker works as a PR and Communications Specialist for Parenting Place. She is a mum of two, runs her own marketing consultancy business and has a background in high school education where she specialised in health and social sciences.

Comments are closed.